Game Theory

1 Jan

nyt2012 was, for me, a year filled with writing. I wrote 1,366 Kotaku articles (!!), traveled all over the country, played a bunch of games, met a bunch of interesting people, and generally had a good time working my ass off.

It was a year of big changes at Kotaku, and over the course of the year, our team gelled. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the job, but thanks to my co-workers and my marvelous boss, I spent the second half of 2012 in particular looking forward to heading into the office every day.

One of the coolest things this year was our involvement with the New York Times. Just last week, I had the privilege of contributing to the NYT “Game Theory” year-end round-up. So, that’s pretty cool!

Here’s the general story: This year, Kotaku formed a partnership with the Times where we’d provide them the bulk of their games coverage in the form of capsule reviews cut down from the full reviews we’d run on our site. Stephen and Chris Suellentrop also took on more substantive coverage for the paper. It was a pretty low-effort, cheap-thrills kind of thing; we didn’t get bylines, and the capsule reviews didn’t offer us much of a chance to say too much beyond “This game is cool,” but it was still fun to see our words in the Times, and great that Kotaku was providing gaming coverage to arguably the most esteemed and widely-read news publication in the world.

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In past years, Chris Suellentrop has run a neat feature at Slate called the “Slate Gaming Club,” where a group of critics take turns writing letters to one another about the year in games. A lot of my favorite writers and critics have participated in the series, and I’ve wanted to do it for a while. This year, I pitched Chris on the idea–I’d played more games in 2012 than any other year of my life, and if ever there was a year when I’d have a lot to add to the conversation, it was this one. As it turned out, Chris had taken the idea to the New York Times, and asked me if I’d like to contribute to that, instead. He was also in the process of setting up a collection of guest writers–the idea would be that he, Stephen and I would act as the regular writers, with several guests writing one-shot posts in between our entries.

Long story short(ish): We got underway last week, and the whole series came together quite well. Prompted by Sandy Hook, our opening entries talked about violence in games, and I’m actually very glad we found a focus like that. Often, these kinds of things can turn into scattershot “My favorite game was [X]” conversations, and I think we did well with a focus, particularly one people are as interested in as they are video game violence. Each of those first three letters was published in last Wednesday’s print edition of the Times, in a big, multi-page spread. So: My first New York Times byline! Not bad.

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You can, of course, read all of these articles online, too. Chris started us off with a table-setter that introduced everyone and raised the question of violence in games, and Stephen followed him with a look at the NRA’s bizarre response to the Sandy Hook shootings the week earlier. My first entry took a look at video game violence through the lenses of a few pet theories of mine, from the idea that game developers keep making shooting games because they’ve gotten very good at it to Steve Gaynor’s wonderful concept of “specific violence,” which suggests that if video game murder were less dehumanized and anonymous, it would be more impactful and dramatically useful.

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of The New Statesman, wrote a thoughtful article about women in games, which was nice to see, particularly as 2012 felt like a watershed year for the discussion of sexism in video games. Stephen waded in to respond to some of the things Helen had brought up, particularly surrounding the Tomb Raider attempted-rape controversy, since there has been some lingering obfuscation about how that story was reported, what the game’s rep actually said, and how the publisher’s PR spun it after the fact. Playwright Lucy Preble hopped in to bring up the games as art discussion, pointing to ThatGameCompany’s Journey as an outstanding example of a video game that stands as a work of art.

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On that tip, Chris wrote my favorite entry of the series, in which he talked about how video games are like ballet. I’ve always talked about how video games are like music, but I gotta say, Chris’ parallel is stronger, largely because dance, like video games, is a medium that encompasses other, subservient disciplines (music, dance, visual arts, dramatic performance). The wonderful Jenn Frank then talked about the indie games she liked this year, and the many ways they embraced failure and death. That gave me an opportunity to bring up a few of my own favorite games of the year (and sneak a few Persona 4 screens onto the NYT website), and look at the many ways video games do not yet welcome newcomers.

Two more guest posters brought us home: Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore talked about the games that influenced his by-all-accounts fine film, and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” producer Gavin Purcell wrote a humorous and well-observed piece about how the social game Letterpress made him become antisocial thanks to his friends constantly pressuring him to take his turn.

And with that, we called it a day. I had a blast contributing to the series, and was happy with the ideas we all managed to articulate. I’m super proud not only to have been published in the New York Times, but to have published work I’m happy with.

Onward and upward, as they say. 2013 should prove to be a very exciting year both at Kotaku and beyond. There are new video game consoles to see, ambitious games already on the horizon, and we’ve got a phenomenal team of writers to take it all on. As I was saying to Jason Schreier the other day, “We’re loaded for bear, and this year, there’re going to be some bears to hunt.” We’ll see what’s next. I’m excited.

For now, I’ve got some soup coming at this cafe, and I’m pretty excited about that, too. Happy new year, everyone!

Read the “Game Theory” series at the New York Times

A Year Of The Melodic

27 Dec

SaxThere’s this thing about working at a high-output job like Kotaku where at the end of the year, you scroll back through the RSS of everything you posted and kind of just gape at it.

“Oh yeah, that article! I forgot I wrote or even conceptualized that.”

It’s certainly one of the challenges of the gig, but the high rate-of-fire is also a way to amass a bulky body of work in a short period of time. 2012 was the year we began to do separate “Channels” at Kotaku, the idea being to let our writers each highlight their expertise in various areas on the site. I got to run “Kotaku Melodic,” ostensibly dedicated to the intersection of games and music. I of course treated it more as my own personal fiefdom to write about Miles Davis, Kimbra, Amanda Palmer, and whatever the hell else I wanted. It was great.

I went back over the year and put together this post rounding up the best of the year at Kotaku Melodic. I’m immensely proud of the work we did this year. Give it a read, won’t you?

The Year In Music At Kotaku

He’s Still Out There

8 Dec

original

Watching, waiting. For the inevitable showdown.

No, THIS Is Me In A Nutshell

8 Dec

NutshellWell, it has been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog. The realities of writing hundreds of blog posts per month somewhere else has run me dry for sharing things here, I’m afraid.

I still really want to have a space on the web that’s just like, my stuff, though I’m figuring out what that looks like exactly. (Should I finally start using my Tumblr account for something other than the Kotaku tumblr? I ask you.)

But in the meantime, I will be posting here throughout the rest of December to round up the year that was, share some work I’m proud of, and maybe talk about some other things that went down in 2012.

For today though, a podcast. The lovely Australian journalist/writer Patrick Stafford asked me to go on his show The Crafting Podcast, where we talked about what I do, why I do it, and how I came to be where I am. Seriously, we went all the way back to high school. So, if you’re curious about any of that, you can listen to it here:

I had a lot of fun; thanks to Patrick for having me on, and for being such a gracious host.

More to come, including year-end round-ups, and other fun stuff.

That Old Grey Lady

12 Jul

After keeping it under our hats for a few weeks, Kotaku has finally announced our ongoing partnership with The New York Times, in which our writers will be providing the bulk of their game coverage. Our EIC Stephen Totilo will be writing more involved “Critic’s Notebooks” along with longtime Times writer Chris Suellentrop, and Kotaku will be providing abridged versions of our reviews for the back of the arts section.

Our first reviews went out in yesterday’s paper (shown above, since of course I bought a copy). I was really happy that one of my reviews made the cut–that review being a rundown of The Walking Dead‘s second episode, which you can read here on the Times website.

Since this is a partnership deal and the reviews are abridged copies of reviews we’ve already run on our site, we don’t get individual bylines. Which, yeah, is a bit of a bummer–it sure would have been nice to have my name in the NYT! All things in time, I suppose.

We’ll be providing reviews for the paper on an ongoing basis, so every time you see video game reviews in the Arts section, they were written by either me or my Kotaku colleagues.

It’s a really exciting time at Kotaku, and I’m immensely proud of the work we’re doing. It’s been a wild six months since Stephen took over as EIC, and we’re all working really hard to make the site the most interesting, entertaining and informative video game site in the world.

Thanks everyone for reading. See you in the Arts section!

Hi Again Mom

24 Jun

Hey, look at that! I went on Anthony Carboni’s show “New Challenger” again, this time to talk about the super-broken and weird Kinect game Steel Battalion. We also talk about the Kinect in general, what it does well, what it does poorly, what it could do in the future.

I wore a nicer shirt this time than I did last time. I’m pretty happy about it. Moral of the story: If you’re going on-camera, wear a nice shirt.

Thanks for having me, Mr. Carboni.

“Of All Places!”

10 Jun

Discussion of the whole “growing the jazz audience” idea continues! Because hey, this is not something that gets conceptualized and then put to bed in a couple of weeks.

In the interest of keeping the discussion going, NPR’s “A Blog Supreme” has gathered a few responses to Kurt Ellenberger’s original piece, among them the one I wrote for Kotaku.

I’m happy to see my work discussed at an NPR blog, particularly given the fact that I get to blindside jazz folks by posting such an article on a video game website. (In the NPR article, author Patrick Jarenwattananon refers to Kotaku as “of all places” two times. Ha!)

I have to say I wish I got the sense that there were more people engaging with this discussion with the same vigor as Kurt did. I’ve seen jazz musicians on Facebook and in comments sections using this discussion as an excuse to bring up bones they’ve been picking for a while–the academization of jazz, the way that largely white college professors have ruined things, the effect of Berklee in the 80’s, the unfair misconceptions under which jazz has labored for decades now.

But I’ve seen a dispiriting lack of further, deeper discussion, of people looking to honestly engage in these bigger questions: Whose responsibility is it to keep an artistic movement alive? What role does artistic evolution play in that? How might we better teach music to young people? Is a holistic approach to musical education perhaps more engaging and successful than a strict adherence to jazz dogma? How far can you go before you lose fundamentals?

These questions are asked routinely at conventions like the IAJE (now defunct) and JEN, of course. But questions as vital as those shouldn’t be relegated to educators’ journals and conventions. They should be online, and everyone who wants to hear them should be able to.

I’m thankful to Kurt for bringing this conversation out into the light, and I’m glad to see that it’s continuing. I hope to see some more responses published in the future. I get the sense that this conversation is only beginning, and that it’s a worthwhile one to be having.

Your Comments About Building Jazz Audiences And Musicians With Day Jobs [NPR]—

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